Google RSS reader is now just as good as its competitors

Google has updated its Web-based RSS reader. This version is a major revision -- and improvement -- from the last Google Reader . On the surface, Google Reader is now more like other online news readers (Bloglines, Newsgator, Rojo). These products are all becoming much the same in terms of user interface, and they're all pretty easy to use.

Google does have a few things going for it that are worth calling out, though. It's fast, for one thing. Pages are simple and load quickly. Whatever magic Google is doing with Ajax has the desired effect: Google Reader doesn't keep you waiting around.

It's very easy to subscribe to feeds. If you type a Web URL (not the complex URL of the feed itself), Google Reader will simply subscribe you to the site's primary feed. You can subscribe to any feed by entering in the specific feed URL, of course. You can also just type a word or two in the Add Subscription box, and Reader will show you a list of feeds that match your terms. For example, enter "home remodeling", and you'll get a page of feeds on the topic; you can subscribe to any with a single click.

Reader has a "share" feature. When you're reading a post, you can press the Share button under it and Reader will add it to your own public page. Here's mine. I don't think the public pages themselves are very useful, but content on a shared page is also available by RSS feed, and that could be embedded into a social network site or another blog. You can also tag items in Google Reader. Each tag gets it own RSS feed. Finding the URL for a tag feed requires a few contortions, but it could be a useful feature for some people. Why am I spending all this time talking about a micro-feature only alpha geeks are going to use? Good question.

When moving to a new reader, you probably don't want to set up all your feeds from scratch. Fortunately, nearly all readers will export and import .OPML feed directories. The bad news: I tried to use an OPML file exported from my Newsgator account, and it didn't work in Google Reader. But then I tried a Rojo OPML file and it came through perfectly -- even the folder structure I had set up in Rojo translated into Google Reader.

There are online readers with better user interface features. I like the new Rojo's cleaner page design, for example. And Newsgator allows you to move feeds around in your directory by dragging and dropping them. But on the whole, Google Reader is a strong, if somewhat derivative, Web-based RSS reader. Those looking for a different experience should check out RealTime or one of the new homepage feed readers like NetVibes; we'll have a product comparison of them next week.

 

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